Monday, September 22, 2008

Yes, and...

I went to the dermatologist today for my regular check-up about skin cancer issues I have been treating for a few years. Things on my back, my chest, and my face that get either burned off, or frozen off, or killed with some toxic ointment. I can recall when Dr. took one look at my skin a couple years ago and was able to determine I was raised in the 60’s and 70’s in southern California and never wore sunscreen (all true!). With his voodoo ways, I am hopeful to get this nastiness resolved once and for all.

Today’s dermatological consultation focused on my face. Wearing gobs of SPF 55 sun block and hats have come too late; there are growths that need to be treated on my forehead and a cheek. Dr. says to me “the treatment will be slow, very ugly, sometimes uncomfortable… but effective.” With great practicality he asks me if there is any occasion coming up where I will want to avoid having a face “in treatment” to which I say “after my cousin’s wedding in early October.” Why screw up my cousin’s family photos? So in mid-October off I go!

As I was driving home the entire episode became a huge metaphor for me and a client I am working with. I got to thinking about the ugliness and the discomfort we will endure in order to achieve something greater. For an executive director, how much change and uncertainty and undeveloped resources will s/he endure before something greater can happen? For my son (a freshman in high school), how much homework and teen angst will he endure before something greater happens, his goals form, he matures? How much unpleasant challenge will we tolerate in the workplace on the path to a promotion? It’s not a “first this, then that” proposition (or is it?); can achievement and impact happen at the same time as ugliness and discomfort? Is there value to the pain of the moment?

I am reminded: Treatment will be ugly and uncomfortable and cancerous cells will be dying off and healthy skin (and body) is being restored. A much richer place to be than looking to when the ugliness and discomfort ends so I can then get back to my life (and stand in family photos). I am going for the “yes, and…”--Yes, to treating skin cancer issues and living my life and growing my business and raising my son and taking a class and …

What do you say “Yes, and…” to?

(P.S. Wear sun block…lots!)

Friday, September 19, 2008


Do you remember how slowly the days passed when you were a child? An 80-mile car trip seemed endless. It took forever for summer to come. When it finally did, by late-July, summer seemed interminable. Basic arithmetic reveals that for a two-year old, the next year will represent 33% of her life thus far, whereas for a 19-year old, the next year represents 5%, and for a 39 year-old, only 2.5%...

More than anything else, the young child's perceptions influence how she experiences life. She has few markers that delineate the passage of time. On the first of each month, she pays no rent or mortgage. She has no job, and does not commute. She is likely to be regularly clothed, bathed, and cared for. The child arises each day with no agenda, no "to do" list. She experiences hunger, irritation, and sleepiness. She has some favorite activities -- her major activity is play. Each day brings new wonders... Meanwhile, she has no report to finish, no checkbook to balance, no across-town meetings. She does not even wear a watch.

Your life is a bit more complicated, and is related increasingly to how society has become more complex. Independent of who you are or what you do for a living, chances are that you're busy, perhaps extremely busy, and are a part of our active, generally hard-working population.

If you continually feel pressured, don't take it personally. You are experiencing the same dilemma as millions of other people, and you are part of the most time-pressed society of over-information and communication in history… Few people have what they consider to be breathing space in which to reflect,…truly relax, or simply be.

At this moment you are being bombarded on all sides. The "intake overglut" wreaks havoc on the receptive capacities of the unwary. Yet you can break away from the pack that idly ingests the information, noise and garbage that comes its way. Despite the ever-escalating array of obstacles, you can attain breathing space.

Jeff Davidson, [edited passage from] Breathing Space: Living and Working at a Comfortable Pace in a Sped-Up Society

Slow down. Enjoy the space to breathe this weekend!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Meeting of the Minds

Imagine a table with these characters or characterizations present: meticulously organized, earth mother, compassionate, kind, efficient, quick wit, biting tongue, take-no-prisoners beat-‘em-to-the-punch ninja, insightful, numbers guy, cool and laid back, caffeine driven, sharply dressed, animal rights activist, in debt, Mini Cooper driving, risk averse, punctuality impaired, Valley girl…

Could be the traits and characteristics of a board of directors. Could be the traits and characteristics of a person, or a partnership. When a group is assembled, whether you know it or not, there’s a whole lot more present than what appears on the surface.

What do you notice about who occupies your table? What will it take for this group to be effective? What does it take to balance needs/functions of the whole with the unique attributes of the individuals?

What is trying to can happen here?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


My brother-in-law (who I love dearly!) is an avid collector of autographs: Athletes, musicians, comedians, television and movie people, some CEO types, political and royal figures. He has an extraordinary collection that is a walk down many Memory Lanes when we are together and he is showing off his latest acquisition. His is a museum quality collection due to its span of history and its depth.

My brother-in-law is an appreciative fan. He will send personal letters to these famous people, sincerely acknowledging their talent or reflecting upon how they have impacted him in some way. He sends photos or books or record albums or sports items with his request for a personalized signature. Most everyone he reaches out to complies because they are so touched by his sincerity. Collecting autographs is his hobby—his passion--and it brings him pure joy!

Recently, when I was with my brother-in-law, he was in the process of interacting with and getting an autograph from a famous singer/entertainer from the 50’s and 60’s. My brother-in-law wrote to this singer about how he remembers his teenage sister (now deceased) dancing around her bedroom with a song from one of the singer’s LPs playing repeatedly. The singer responded to my brother-in-laws request for a special autograph with a personal letter expressing his appreciation for the story and offering to sign anything sent his way. My brother-in-law sent his sister’s album for the entertainer to sign. It’s a lovely story.

He called me the other day to tease me about his latest outing. “Guess where I went?” he asks and I immediately know it has something to do with autograph collecting. “Okay, whose did you get today?” I ask with sincere, eager curiosity. He tells me how he went to a “Star Unveiling” at the Hollywood Walk of Fame for the 70’s singing group The Village People and there he got an autograph from each villager (remember the police man, the cowboy, the construction worker, etc.?). He got autographs from Greg Louganis and Charo who were also there (go figure!). We laughed about our Village People memories, marveled at Greg Louganis and his Olympic success, and pondered Charo’s success and longevity (and talent?). This is the joy and sharing that comes from his hobby.

Autographs… it’s his thing. And what I notice is his pure, unbridled, over-the-top, creative, strategic, appreciative, enthusiastic, extraordinary love for his hobby. He embraces this hobby with such fervor, with such passion! It makes me wonder, what are you passionate about? What do you do that brings you endless, boundless joy?

And what I also notice is my brother-in-law is spreading appreciation and acknowledgment to people for doing something in his world that made an impact whether for a moment or his lifetime. My brother-in-law marks his life in many ways, one of which is by a movie or a song or a joke or a sporting event. He lets people know their song made a difference or their movie performance shed some light. He takes time to let people know they touched him in some way.

What does showing appreciation and sharing acknowledgement look like to you? What are the risks you take when offering acknowledgment? When you offer it, how do you know it is received? What happens to you after you offer acknowledgment that is received? What do you notice?

Try this: Amazing things happen in your world when you share on the outside what is going on inside.

Go try it!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Parts of the Whole

My computer is acting up… big time! It has been spontaneously shutting down, losing some of my work, causing me aggravation, and wasting my time. My productivity has decreased, e-mail has backed up, blogging and client note-taking has waned. It is so frustrating. When my computer acts up and my access to technology feels threatened, I usually resort to the position “if I never got involved in this whole technology thing, I would be a lot better off.”

I think my progression into an electronic “plugged in” lifestyle was fairly common. I don’t recall resisting the need to have a computer, e-mail, and some other gadgets (although the cost and rapid “disposability” of equipment was always a bit much to take). In fact, I have embraced technology and do enjoy the ease having it brings to my life. In fact, a large part of my business is built around connectivity. Years ago I named my goal: to build a coaching practice that I can do anywhere in the world. Having a laptop computer and a cell phone gives me amazing freedom to do just that.

[Insert admission here…] Technology has become essential to me.

In this particular computer episode my aggravation is not at having lost data; I haven’t and I back up my computer regularly. The aggravation I experience is in the fact that the data and my software and my programs are on the computer—it’s all there—and I have no access to them. The computer is dead. Feeling immobilized, incapable, crippled come to mind.

So this is what I am thinking: What happens when the sum of the parts does not add up to a whole! Or in the affirmative, what are we able to accomplish when the sum of the parts do add up to a whole?

I think about a client (an organization) who has a staff, a donor base, a board of directors, some consultants, a strategic plan, and financial resources. Their goal is to make huge impact for a particular group of people. And yet, there is little movement toward this goal. The parts cannot/do not come together to achieve the goal. There is a spinning—an inertia—that keeps a process happening but it is not a process taking this client toward its biggest goal. I wonder, what is the component that is missing, that prevents the parts from coming together? What needs to be tweaked in order to course-correct the parts and meet the goal? And what are the barriers to tweaking the parts? What’s trying to happen here?

My resourcefulness will help me to see solutions to my computer dilemma. I can take my back-up disk and get my data and borrow a computer to use the data. I can go to the local public library or coffee house for e-mail and web access. I can take out a pen and paper to write a letter and buy a stamp and mail it (do you know stamps are $.42 now?) or I can send a FAX (remember those machines?). I am getting my computer repaired. Similarly, my client can raise more money, enhance the skills of the board, realign the programs, retrain some staff, revise its long-term plan, and revisit its fundraising case. In either case, naming the challenge, tweaking and making some needed adjustments to the parts, and also aligning the parts with the whole will lead to success.

Notice the parts and the whole in your week. What do you know about their alignment? If the alignment is a bit off, what needs to happen? The parts are in service to something larger; what is it and how committed are you to it?

Have a great week.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


A long while ago I had a meeting with the head of a large corporate foundation in the cosmetology industry. He was very nice, extremely receptive to our cause, made a large financial contribution, and provided some amazing access to other leaders in the industry. It was a great day in philanthropy.

And, in addition to the philanthropic generosity he demonstrated, what has really stayed with me all these years was the title on his business card. He was the Director of Dream Fulfillment. I get it… a corporate foundation, he’s the leader, he oversees the giving away of millions of dollars, his efforts fulfills dreams. Cool!

Fast forward to this afternoon: I was poking around on a couple business networking websites and was struck by how mind-numbingly boring most job titles are. I wonder how challenging it must be to be successful in a job function that is identified with such a boring job title. Case Managers manage cases. Outside Sales Representatives probably represent products or services, in hopes of selling them, to people out in the community. IT Managers must manage some form of IT. Ugh!

Far and few between, there were some job titles that appeared that inspired me, intrigued me, or made me chuckle. At the very least, they did not seem to be the kind of title that would suck the life out of the good people who occupy the positions.

  • Director of Vertical Markets
  • Director of Strategy Planning
  • Director of Sustainable Development
  • Energy Engineer
  • Information Architect
  • Senior Strategy Consultant
  • Implementation Engineer
  • Creative Interactive Strategist
  • Infrastructure Development Manager
  • Community Relations Associate
  • Interactive Designer
  • Rainmaker
  • Client Relationship Executive
  • Cause Account Coordinator
  • Chief Creative Officer
  • Client Relations Manager
  • Senior Game Developer
  • Strategic Account Manager

I wonder what would be possible if the titles of the jobs we do enlivened us, motivated us, cracked us up. They can still say what we do but in a way that fills us with hope and possibility, not drain us of our creativity and breath. Can’t a Director of Public Policy become a Director of Public/Private Partnerships or maybe a Human Resources Manager can become the Manager of Our Valued People Because Without Them We’d Be Nothing? I think every fundraising position these days should have the word “philanthropy” in it’s title.

Words have great power. I want the roles I play in the world to move me to greatness and what that role is called is an important place to begin. What’s on your business card? How alive/inspired/creative/successful does the title make you feel? If you were to change your actual title, what would the new title be? And if your new, made up title resonates for you, go get your actual title changed. Now!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Friday Learnings

Months ago, when my web site and blog went live, my web site designer, Sue, oriented me to the features of both and in a very coach-like manner, reassured me I had the intellect and skill to maintain the blog myself. I thought “yeah, right” before moving on to another project. The blog sat for a bit before I crossed over the technology “edge” I was perched upon. Upon crossing this edge, I learned that blogging and managing the blog came very easy for me. In fact, I am really enjoying myself!

This afternoon I was working on my blog when I ran into trouble. I was trying—repeatedly—to add two new features to the blog and it wouldn’t work! I was certain I had done this function before and was puzzled that it wasn’t working for me this time. I became more persistent in my attempt to be self reliant and not call Sue. I gave in. After an e-mail and a call, Sue rescued me.

What I noticed in my stuck place is that I knew how to execute what I was trying to do on the blog. I had done this before and I will do it again. Yet it wasn’t working. I became frustrated and couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Inner chatter covered “you should leave this work to the professionals” and “you were just lucky last time you did this.” And I felt a certain self righteousness; I was right and the computer was wrong.

Moments later the features magically appeared on my blog. Sue had received my e-mail and with skill and ease made the changes for me. And a few moments later than that, there was an e-mail in my inbox from Sue that said “OK, first of all, you did nothing wrong. Their code was wrong. I fixed it…” I found myself patting myself on the back (I was right!) and I was grateful for my growing computer skills.

I was right (about this blogging matter) and yet, because computer literacy is a growing skill for me, I doubted my knowledge. Also, because what I was trying to do related to material that originated from a large, well resourced organization, I had to be wrong and they had to be right. They’re the experts; I’m a novice blogger who relies on his web site designer to rescue him… blah blah blah. I can do better than this!

My Friday learnings:

  • I celebrate what I know and what I am learning.
  • I like the tests that come in many forms that challenge me to own what I know and what I am learning.
  • I surround myself with smart, fun people who collaborate and problem solve, reliably and expertly.
  • As I cross one edge another appears (one computer lesson leads to another!).
  • Even well resourced organizations make mistakes that require sole proprietors to sort out.

What did you learn today?

Enjoy the weekend!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


From the window of a local coffee shop.

Reminds me of the advice I gave to my 14 year old son the first day of summer sooooo many weeks ago.

He began high school this morning.

Enjoy the week!

Road Map

Check out these photos! (You can click on them to embiggen for the details)

I was outside a subway station in town when I noticed a construction crew prepping the street for a project. Barricades were being set, sidewalks were being redirected, and the “plan” was being mapped out on the road with different colors of spray paint. I wonder, what will be achieved when this spray-paint-on-asphalt plan is implemented?

For years I have been a planning consultant, specifically strategic planning and fundraising planning for non-profit organizations. I really enjoy the planning process and being with a team (usually a board of directors) as it names and clarifies its governance and programmatic goals. Often these teams embrace this critical planning process with enthusiasm and intention which can be seen in the results of the effort… a well-written plan!

One thing I notice in most planning processes, however, is how little attention is paid to what to do with the plan once it is created. The team will meet and plan and write and plan. They will hold retreats and brainstorm and report back to the group and write some more. The team will conduct a SWAT analysis and compile SMART goals and conduct some form of judgment-free, inclusive voting. It’s all good. A stronger team is built. A plan is written.

And yet, what about implementing the plan? What is involved in taking the entire plan, what is written and what is intended, and implementing it? When people (or subcommittees) take portions of the plan to implement, how does their effort fit into the implementation of the whole plan? How will people be supported, evaluated, and held accountable for their portion of the implementation? How will the plan (and expectations) be adjusted to meet current realities during a long implementation process? How will you know when the plan is fully implemented and the need arises for another plan?

Planning is a process that doesn’t end. For a non-profit organization, planning is about the impact you are trying to have on the world first, how you plan to make this impact second, and the actual resourcing of programs third. The planning proposition is: In order to do THIS (mission), we will do THIS (programs generally), and it will look like THIS (actual services provided). Consider:

In order to eradicate the world of Malaria by 2015, we will take a holistic approach to the epidemic by looking at the interrelationship of clean water, netting, medication, education, and public policy, by doing…

In order to end the institutionalization of children, we will fight for accessible adoption laws for all children without families, by doing…

In order to strengthen democratic institutions for all, we will educate people about their rights and responsibilities, by doing…

The most successful planning process is one that concludes at the end of the implementation of the plan produced; not at the conclusion of the planning process itself.

Think about it.